Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Casa del Migrante

On Monday afternoon, October 3rd, Eric and I met with Gilberto Martinez of the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana.

There are several Casas in Mexico, each run by the Scalibrini order of priests. The order actually started in Italy in 1887 specifically to work with migrants. The Tijuana house was the first in Mexico, opening its doors in 1986.

In those first years, they served over 12,000 people a year who were heading north. Several events in the 1990´s and early 2000´s slowed immigration: the Oklahoma bombing, the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper in the San Diego Area, and of course, September 11, 2001.  Their numbers stayed low for several years and it wasn't until recently that they reached that 12,000 number again. But there is a big difference now and when they started in 1986. Now people are heading south; most have been deported.

So, as Gilberto explained, the scenario is very different.  Before, men (mostly) were leaving their families behind in their countries of origin in search of a means of supporting them.  Years ago, it was much easier to cross and many, when a bit more established in the U.S., would send for their families and bring them to the U.S. as well.  Now, (still mostly) men are deported and ripped away from their families in the U.S. and the means to support them.  So, what happens?  What have we seen over and over again?  Those who are deported are desperate to get back to the United States and most are willing to risk jail time to get back to their families and their lives.  Can you imagine having a familiy, a job, a house, a life in a country that perhaps you were not born in, but have lived in for 5, 10, 20 years and then all of the sudden, you get picked up for a broken taillight or due to racial profiling and you are sent away from your loved ones to a country you may hardly know, perhaps after serving time in jail? There have been over 1 million deportations under the Obama administration.  Imagine the families who have been separated.  One million deportations in the last 3 years.  (end tangent)

That said, while they are in Tijuana, many of those who are deported stay at the Casa del Migrante.  They offer housing, food, clothing, toiletries, medical services, free phone calls, a human rights office and every person has to speak with the social worker.  They also have people come in to teach about prevention of HIV, diabetes, etc.  They are also currently working on a project to make it easier for those who are deported to recieve govermental identification.  Often times, when someone is deported, their personal belongings stay in the detention facility or port of entry where they were detained/aprehended/etc. and they are left without an ID, which makes seeking any sort of services or money collection very difficult.  So, this Casa is trying to get the goverment to be more lenient with those who they have been deported.

This shelter usually recieves anywhere from 20-60 new people each day (though many more than that are deported and choose not to go to the house) and they can stay a maximum of 12 days.  This shelter is exclusively for men, but there are two others dedicated to women and children in Tijuana.  They are not the same organization but work in cooperation under the Coalicion Pro Defense del Migrante, along with other migrant shelters in Mexicali.

The house is in a nice residential area of Tijuana in the colonia Postal.  They have an extensive survelliance system, and provide the guests with photo IDs and fingerprint them upon entry.  Gilberto said this has greatly reduced the number of coyotes who have entered the facility, but I think fingerprints are too reminescent of detention centers and wonder if that is a bit excessive.  However, the facility itself is really nice.  It was constructed for their use and is several stories high with an open air area in the middle. 

Like Annunciation House in El Paso, they are dependent on volunteers who committ to spend a year working and living at the house.  They also greatly depend on donations and community volunteers.  For example, there are different teams of cooks that come to the house each day of the week to cook the meals. 

We weren´t able to stay and chat with the men at the house, but it was great to see such a nice space and solid services being provided to those traveling north and being deported through Tijuana.

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